First Universalist Church

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  • In 1805, the first meetings of the Universalist Society were held and by 1807, the membership had grown to 300. Land was purchased in 1807 on Rust St. to build a church. "The first Universalist Meetinghouse is one of the most outstanding Federal-era ecclesiastical structures surviving in Essex County. The front projecting gable pavilion, above which rises a square balustraded bell tower, is particularly noteworthy", according to Tolles in his book, Architecture in Salem.
  • Modifications were made in the building in 1826 and 1839 (basement enlarged and renovated). In 1877/78, under the architect William D. Dennis (1847-1913), the sanctuary was done over.
  • In front of the parish house is the Thomas Perkins House(c.1811), a two-story brick Federal dwelling, the only one of its type left in Salem. The building was saved from demolition in 1968, when its owner, Bessie Munroe, refused to vacate the premises.
  • The church is a member of the Unitarian-Universalist Association, a liberal Protestant denomination.
  • Some of the past ministers were Rev. Tracy Pullman from 1936-40, Rev. Arthur Webster from 1940-76 and Rev. Charles Barber 1976-1987. Rev. Marta Flanagan (the first woman to serve at that church) served from 1987. Rev. Gail Seavey took over in 1998.
  • The church was forced to close its sanctuary for renovation in 1988 when a sagging support beam made it unsafe for habitation. A year and a half later, they opened the newly restored sanctuary.
  • The First Universalist Church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
  • Due to a decline in membership numbers, the First Universalist Church in Salem has stopped having church services as of May 2015. The building will still be up-kept as a non-profit with programming for the arts.
  • First Universalist Church merged with First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Beverly.
  • The building will still be used as a non-profit organization called The Bridge at 211. The programming will be to entertain, engage and educate and enrich the community in music and the arts.


See Also

  • Postcard courtesy of
  • Vertical File in Salem Collection - Churches
  • "Universalist Church celebrates 200th birthday in song" Salem News, Feb. 27, 2009, p.2
  • "Historic Salem church reopens its sanctuary" Salem Evening News, Sept. 9, 1989, p.1
  • "New minister greets flock with open arms (Rev. Gail Seavey) " Salem Evening News, Nov. 7, 1998, p. A1
  • "United in worship; Historic churches to merge after members meet on bridge to sign agreement" Salem News, Sept. 8, 2015
  • "Dr. Webster ends 36 years as Universalist minister" Salem Evening News, Apr. 3, 1976.
  • "Salem Universalists install new minister Sunday (Rev. Marta Flanagan)" Salem Evening News, Nov. 14, 1987, p. 7
  • Committee chooses N.J. woman to lead Salem Unitarian (Universalist) church" Salem Evening News, June 27,1987, p.17